Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 16

16 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I love rare birds. I’ve been a birdwatcher since about the age of 10, one of those “twitcher” types that needs to keep a life list of every bird I’ve seen. Of course, a particular brand of nerd status and glory is affixed to the rarities. There is something deeper at work as well here, at least for me. I was a psychology resident in Vancouver in 2008, and frankly it was one of the worst years of my life. Everything seemed like it was falling apart. One way I coped was by spending most Fridays at a beach close to UBC campus, sneaking out there almost every week (rain or shine) when I was supposed to be working on a research paper. If my supervisor knew (and she probably did), she had the forbearance to turn a blind eye. One day I was hiking down the wooden steps as a band-tailed pigeon exploded past my head. Not even that much of a rarity, but it was a first for the life list, and it felt like at least one tiny win that I majorly needed. I’m a pretty good archivist and a half-decent birder. Well, I do the same thing with wine grapes. I keep a life list. Birds are beautiful but wine smells better and you can drink it. Although I’ve had dry Rotgipfler before, from this very same producer, unwrapping this distinctly-shaped bottle still made me feel some of what I felt when I saw that damn pigeon (despite the fact that my life is a whole lot better now). What a pleasant surprise. And of course, my Pop & Pour Advent Austria streak remains alive. Zum Wohl!


Look at how long this sucker is… Great field mark for an Auslese split.

Rotgipfler (and what a name…) makes full-bodied spicy white wines in Austria’s Thermenregion, a true local specialty. The grape is a half-sibling of my beloved Gruner Veltliner. The name refers to the red colour of the vine’s shoot tips (“rot” = “red” in Austrian). The aroma is typically compared to peaches or apricots. As far as white grapes go, this one is a bit of a tank. Known for great concentration and a heavy, unctuous body, Rotgipfler is often paired with Zierfandler, another Thermenregion specialty that adds needed acidity and minerality to the blend. I enjoyed Reinisch’s entry level Rotgipfler with an importer buddy of mine and although the wine had seen no oak, it somehow featured a pungent smoky  nose and was bursting at the seams with banana peel, peach, mango, and gooseberry notes. Huge concentration indeed but elegant at the same time. Read the rest of this entry »


Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 8

8 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I am on a Chardonnay kick of late. Admittedly, though, California Chardonnay has not been on the docket much. If it were, Carneros would perhaps be one logical starting point for a guy who enjoys delicate renditions. This AVA spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is moderately cool and windy, and enjoys a number of day degrees comparable to Beaune. Make no mistake, however. The sunshine is more intense and the growing season is longer than in Burgundy, leading to more prominent fruit flavours even as the grape’s acidity is preserved. A gentle winemaking hand yields a sip full of pure crystalline citrus and apple fruit character, gracefully lifted up by the acid and a distinct silky texture. A heavy-handed approach mars this regional signature almost completely, yielding a wine that might score points with some reviewers but that shows little distinction by way of place.


With family roots in the Rheingau, Koerner Rombauer, his wife Joan, and their two children arrived in the Napa Valley in 1972. They became partners in Conn Creek winery, learning the wine business there and then staking out on their own in 1982. Rombauer vineyards was a run-away success, serving as an initial home base for numerous other up and coming California wineries (e.g., Duckhorn, Spottswood) while Koerner and Joan also made their own wines. Rombauer Vineyards purchased its first Chardonnay from the Carneros region in 1990, from the Sangiacomo family. This partnership fit lock and key, with Carneros grapes and Rombauer’s winemaking providing a synergy that resulted in numerous accolades, including four appearances on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines” list. The Rombauers purchased their own vineyard in Carneros in 2002, the same year that Joan tragically died from pancreatic cancer. Today a third generation of Rombauers remains employed at the winery. Carneros Chardonnay remains one of their standard bearers, with Wine Spectator claiming that “Rombauer defines the California Chardonnay style that so many adore”. So a big boozy white, ripe with tropical fruit aromas, buttery and decadent? Hmmm. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: White Australia

19 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Sometimes your moneymaker becomes your millstone.  Australia, which had been making wine for a couple centuries without raising much of a global fuss about it, burst onto international liquor store shelf traffic jam within the past two or three decades thanks to a flamboyant, fruity, brash, ripe style of Shiraz, buttressed by a New World-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that was easy on the pocketbook.  A mammoth export industry emerged, but typecasting of Australian wine as a whole inevitably followed, leaving those longstanding producers with histories older than the Dominion of Canada stuck in their own misleading shadow.


Now the Shiraz spotlight has pulled back a bit, giving everyone a bit of room to breathe and again find comfort in the space of their own natural identities; for longstanding affiliates Pewsey Vale and Yalumba, this has meant a continued push to enhance the white side of Australia’s wine spectrum, and perhaps the sowing of a few carefully nurtured seeds which might ultimately settle the debate of what should be known as Australia’s signature white grape.  Two deserving contestants, from two benchmark wineries, lie below. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2010 Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino

19 09 2011

When drinking on a budget, many people go for cheap wine.  Me, I opt for sheep wine.


You are forgiven for thinking that Pecorino is only a sheep’s milk cheese, because I was convinced of the same thing until I was presented with an opportunity to buy this neon green, livestock-labelled bottle.  For the first and possibly last time in my life, the back label of a wine I owned proudly trumpeted that it was made from “the grape of the sheeps” (bad grammar not mine) — the word “Pecorino” comes from the Italian “pecora”, meaning “sheep”.  Apart from being delicious with crackers on an appetizer platter, Pecorino is also a little-known white grape indigenous to the central-eastern Italian wine region of Abruzzo.  It almost became extinct over the past few decades because it is a fairly low-yielding varietal that doesn’t lend itself to big money crops (and because wineries weren’t lining up down the block to plant sheep grapes), but large-scale producer Umani Ronchi recently began a crusade to revive it in an effort to keep regional grape varieties alive, leading up to the first vintage of this Pecorino in 2007.  Thanks to the palate-broadening encouragement of Brian at The Ferocious Grape (who was also behind my foray into Malvar a couple months ago), and because I liked the cute cartoon sheep on the label, it ended up in my glass. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2010 Zestos Vinos de Madrid Blanco

20 07 2011

Malvar! You can't really see it in this picture, but the neck of the bottle says "Ole 'No Brainer' NB". Randomest neck foil ever?

Time to venture into the obscure!  Aside from being the first wine I’ve ever had out of an orange-tinted bottle, tonight’s vino is also the first wine I’ve ever had made from the Malvar grape.  Raise your hands if you’ve ever heard of “Malvar” before.  If your hand is currently resting on your lap, or if it’s up in the air but you’re lying through your teeth, you’re not alone:  even my most reference-y wine books had never heard of it.  The New Wine Lover’s Companion by Ron and Sharon Herbst is literally a dictionary of wine knowledge, but “Malvar” doesn’t show up in it.  Oz Clarke’s Grapes & Wines is a 300+ page book ONLY about the various different grape varietals, hundreds of them listed in alphabetical order, and “Malvar” is nowhere to be found.  In Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, which is a monolithic 800-page wine encyclopedia and probably the most famous wine reference book in the world, “Malvar” gets less than 30 words of attention:  “Malvar, white grape commonly grown around Madrid producing slightly rustic wines but with more body and personality than the ubiquitous Airen.”  Wow, thanks.  Basically, we’re on our own for this one. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Laughing Stock Chardonnay

11 07 2011

In case my constant compulsive pumping of Riesling didn’t already tell you this about me, I’m not much of a Chardonnay guy.  I’m not an active hater, but I can generally take it or leave it, and it’s definitely not where my eyes go on a white wine list.  I find most oak-aged Chardonnays to be a bit of a blunt instrument, tasering the taste buds into submission with a lumberyard of wood (often accompanied by crazy high alcohol) and overwhelming the sense of delicacy that I think the best white wines possess.  Conversely, I find most unoaked Chardonnays to be, well, extraordinarily boring:  Chardonnay is a fairly neutral grape by itself, without any intense flavours, and with no oak providing backup vocals it can lack the layer of intrigue that it sorely needs.  Of course, this dreary portrait doesn’t apply to all Chards out there (Burgundy fans, put down your pitchforks — I can’t afford your wines anyway), but it covers more of them than it should.

Great bottle, great marketing, great wine.

But leave it to my (now official) favourite Canadian producer to walk that difficult middle ground between extreme oakiness and mind-numbing neutrality.  Coming off the extremely strong showing of their signature red blend Portfolio back in May, the Okanagan’s Laughing Stock Vineyards kept the PnP love fest going with their 2009 Chardonnay, which struck a perfect balance.  The LS label info alone gave me high hopes, for two reasons.  First, the alcohol level was only 13.2%, not a percent and a half higher like some New World Chardonnays; since all the alcohol in wine comes from the sugars in ripe grapes, this non-astronomical alcohol level means that the grapes weren’t crazily overripe when they were fermented, which in turn means that the resulting wine likely won’t be overly full and will likely retain some much-needed acidity.  Second, instead of being aged in small oak barrels for a long period of time (usually a year or more), the LS Chardonnay was actually fermented in oak and then aged in larger oak barrels called puncheons (the bigger the barrel, the less surface area contact with the wine and the less flavour imparted) for only 5 months.  As compared to strictly aging in oak, barrel fermentation generally results in more controlled, better integrated and softer oak flavours being imparted into the wine, all good things for someone easing their way into oaky whites.  This is why more information on wine labels is always better than less! Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2010 Jorge Ordonez Botani Moscatel Seco

6 07 2011

Summer is finally, briefly here -- I have just the wine.

It’s wines like this that make a good local wine shop (or a friendly neighbourhood blog) so important.  Apart from an atypically stylish label, this wine has nothing going for it that would normally make you pick it up off the shelf:  it’s not bargain-basement cheap (usual retail is $25ish), it comes from a completely obscure region (Sierras de Malaga) in a country (Spain) that is not at all known for its white wines, and it’s made from a grape (Moscatel Seco, otherwise known as dry Muscat) that doesn’t exactly have Chardonnay-esque market appeal.  Why have a $25 Muscat from southern Spain when you can stick to Wolf Blass and Kim Crawford and avoid risking that kind of cash on the unknown?  Because it’s freaking awesome, that’s why.  Thanks to a good wine store initially talking me into taking the plunge, I’ve now tracked down Botani in three successive new vintages, possibly the longest streak in my brief wine-collecting career, and if I can encourage some of you to be similarly adventurous then this blog will be worth its while. Read the rest of this entry »

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